July 21 (OPride) – Ethiopia’s Minister of Civil Service, former President of Oromia regional state and minister of Science and Technology, Junedin Saddo, is reportedly receiving treatment in South Africa after a car crash.
According to OPride sources, the incident occurred earlier this week near Kaliti, on the entrance to the capital, Addis Ababa. It is not immediately clear if foul play was involved. There was a brief report on social media about the crash but his whereabouts had since been unknown.
Mr. Saddo’s wife, Habiba Mohammed, is in detention suspected of aiding Muslim protesters opposed to the government’s interference in religious affairs. Mrs. Saddo was nabbed on July 17 at the Saudi embassy while trying to flee the country, sources told OPride.
Quoting Addis Ababa-based weekly Amharic newspaper, Sendek, De Birhan blog reported, Mohammed was arrested upon exiting the embassy after meeting with Fahadel Kahatani, Saudi Arabia’s religious attaché in Addis Ababa, “with a large sum of money and over 800 books written in Arabic language.”
A source close to the Junedi’s, who asked not to be named due fear of retaliation, told OPride that the government alleges Mrs. Saddo was trying to run away with the money. She is now being held at Maikilawi and no one has access to her.
Ethiopia’s ruling party, now in power for two decades, is cracking down harshly on peaceful protesters and their leaders. The Ethiopian Muslims have been demanding religious freedom and protesting against government interference for eight months now – an unprecedented development for a country known to the outside world mostly for its dominant Christian faith.
According to the protesters’ own official Facebook account, Dimtsachin Yisema (let our voices be heard), all but a few of the movement’s leaders are at large, with many detained overnight. The 17-member Islamic Arbitration Committee was selected by the protesters to arbitrate between Muslim protesters, the Islamic council, Mejlis, and the government.
Ahmedin Jebel, the group’s outspoken spokesperson was taken from his house last night, allegedly beaten by police and is now being held at Maikalawi prison. The houses of those not arrested had also been ransacked, the group said. According to De Birhan, Jebel, who has been arrested in the past for writing about religion and politics in Ethiopia, is “regarded by many as the man behind the horizontally structured protest movement.” Jebel was quoted in various news reports over the last few days.
Earlier today, shortly after Salatul Asr, police stormed the Anwar mosque compound before the protesters made their way out. “The police came out of no where and encircled the mosque,” Ismail told OPride from Addis Ababa. “At least 50,000 worshipers are trapped inside the mosque compound, literally stepping on each other’s toes.”
Other reports via Twitter and Facebook, seemingly the only two sources of information at the absence of media coverage, confirm that the riot police was everywhere and a tear gas was used against the protesters. No casualties were reported in today’s scuffle. According to Ismail, there is a general uneasiness in Addis at the moment. “But some people are screaming, crying and running toward tear gas in defiance,” he said. “Others are fleeing the scene…there is so much chaos,” he said in a phone interview from the mosque.
At least three military trucks have taken hundreds of protesters to an unknown location, according to Ismail. All roads leading to and from Merkato, Africa’s biggest open market, near Anwar mosque, have been blocked.
The government mouthpiece, ETV, confirmed the arrest of what it called “several extremists” and the group’s leaders. Although the government have been negotiating with the committee for months, Deputy Police Commissioner, Girma Kassa referred to the committee as “unlawful self-appointed group.” The protesters have been chanting “Islam is peace” and remained peaceful even when provoked. Eyewitnesses interviewed for this report said the activists did no throw rocks.
Mr. Saddo, who is seen as an able technocrat, was one of those accused by the protesters for pushing Meles Zenawi’s scheme to silence Muslim activists. The government, particularly the ministry of Federal Affairs, is blamed for using the resources of the state to crop up a pro-regime religious sect, Al-Ahbash, which did not have a footing in the country.
It is to be remembered that Hassan Ali, the former president of Oromia, who fled the country and settled in Atlanta, Georgia, faced a similar fate. Many say that the arrest of his wife is a harbinger of Mr. Saddo’s downfall.